Who wants to consume Morbid Realism when they can have Canned Hope?

I have finally taken up music as a serious course of education. That’s right. I am learning music at Age 46. Why? Because I can’t find music or songs that express what I feel and think. This inspite of the fact that I listen to almost every conceivable genre (in 15 different languages) and am usually open to anything new that comes along; this inspite of the fact that there are millions of songs available to me across the various devices that clamour for my attention every day.

I guess I hit absolute boredom because I realised that all genres are at the end of the day a boundary, and within that boundary there are only finite number of permutations and combinations if one comes through traditional learning methods.

I blame this boredom on my upbringing, steeped in theatre, art, and classical music spanning educators from Benares, Delhi, and Bombay. I think I started listening to pop, rock and alt-genres after I turned 25. You see, music was never a source of entertainment for me. It’s always been a serious part of my education, a part of expression. And therefore, Indian and western classical, jazz, folk, rural vocal traditions were an integral part of evening conversations in our and our family-network households, even when I was toddling about. Some of it obviously rubbed off.

But I digress. Songs I grew up with meant something when I was growing up, in the sense that they were close approximations of what I thought I was feeling or what I thought I should be feeling. At that time, I mistook that approximation to represent what I was actually feeling or thinking.

Over the years, as I learned about myself and expressed myself, the body of music I listened to expanded – almost exponentially – and in quick time. But, I still did not find enough that expressed my viewpoint.

When does one paint, sing, make music, sketch or create? What is the purpose of art? Where lies the intersection of art as expression and art as a consumer product? Digital Art by Rahul Joshi

The eventual trigger, I believe, came a little over a decade ago, when I, Me, and Myself had a fall out over an iconic pop song that I had (up until then) listened to, sung along, cheered in concerts – Imagine, by John Lennon. Have listened to several bands, singers, local and international, famous and unsung, layman and artiste alike sing that song. And always, at the back of my mind, was this voice which kept trying to say something.

And so finally, after 15-odd years of listening to that famous and much-admired song, I finally asked that voice: “Well, what?”

“Well, do you really think people can live life in peace? For starters, do you really believe that any two people can live in peace?”

Once those questions were asked, out came Pandora with her box. 

Now, I am a writer of all kinds of writing and I also write songs. But it had never occurred that I should learn an instrument, mainly because I have a lot of friends across the world who are musicians, some famous, some who are seriously talented and some who are famous and talented, and I always figured if I wanted to make music, it would be a collaboration with such friends.

But after several attempts – a few successful, some non-starters – I realised that we are all trapped in our own creative ideas, and that those ideas stop us from collaborating effectively. Like my focus when I create is on the creation, the message, the experience/feelings that the creative work evokes in my audience (at the back of my end, I am also always keenly sussing out the process of creation and collaboration). Success is not only secondary, it never comes into my creative process ever, because success comes under the purview of what I term ‘delivery of the product’, which very simply is business. The creative process is about creating the product, and then walking away from it. This separation between creative and business processes is almost impossible to understand if one has never straddled both worlds at some point, even if fleetingly. As a result, creative people always think that the work/art/product is of paramount importance, and when they find collaborators/partners, the relationship is treated as such. Similarly, business people think that the business of business is of paramount importance and when they take on a collaborator/partner with a product/art/work, they treat the relationship as such. Somewhere in between come the middle-people – the consultants, managers, marketers, legal, evangelists, mentors, advisors. They have important bit-part skills that keep it together or make the whole process work, but they are neither creative nor business, and oddly enough, they often end up taking creative and business decisions on the product.

I am an artist and a business consultant. But I keep the two separate. On most projects, I am just the business consultant and I let the artist decide what work they will produce. The only decision I make is whether to take on the artist or not and that decision more often than not is based on my assessment of the artist’s ability to put in the hours consistently to create a volume of work within a period to a quality or value that they decide – that assessment comes from my educational background and work experience. There are three kinds of creators I avoid: People who talk about creation but in future tense (these are those who have spent 10-15 years in their profession but can’t show me 10 songs or canvases or product ideas); People who can’t let an idea go (these are one-product wonders, who believe that their product will change the world, and therefore they never create anything else and then interfere with how the product is taken to market – they believe the product will sell itself because of its genius); People who work on a formula or have a bad product.

As an artist, I don’t think of business at all. And it is that part of me that is now learning music because I have found my limit with canvas, charcoal, oil, words, technology and processes and I need to express myself in frequencies and there is nothing out there that expresses what I am feeling. Will my work as an artist ever see daylight? I don’t know, because as an artist I create to understand myself and the world around me. I am not creating to teach others anything. The process of art is internal to me. The process of business is also internal to me, and obviously, the business person in me has rejected the artist in me as being too inconsistent in volume, too unpredictable to control. Which is why I am a writer by vocation, a consultant by profession and an artist by interest.


When I look around me today, everybody is an artist, and everybody is an entrepreneur, and everybody is a genius. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe individuals have to stand up and say, “I can’t do everything and I shouldn’t want to. I had rather do what I am good at. And learn to do other things as a hobby or as an interest.” But having access to all kinds of information makes us think that we ‘know’ it all. But we don’t. And unless we stand up and educate ourselves on this matter, the world will continue to churn out people who are all expressing on everything all the time … and no one will be listening. And then “the world will be as one” but it won’t be the kind of world that Lennon envisioned in that song. It will be the kind of world that my logic has been telling me I am already living in. And while it may be true that one can’t argue with millions of copies sold, well, I can actually because as an artist I am not one for a pipe dream, and that’s what Imagine really was to my mind – an escapist’s pipe dream. As an artist, I am more realistic, Nostradamesque, predictive, prophetic, morbid even, rather than being hopeful, peaceful or romantic.

But then there’s the business side of things, and from that angle, Lennon was a genius for he created a brilliant piece of work that held out hope for millions and millions and millions of people … and still does. Which basically means Recurring Revenue Forever, not to mention fame, adulation, and immortality.

The question I guess is why don’t I believe in Imagine? It is not because I do not believe in peace or because humankind’s innate nature naturally leads to strife. It is because I do not see enough evidence of the intent in Lennon’s lyrics played out in the events and actions of his life, before or after the song. Secondly, the lyrics have a fundamental flaw given the concept of universal peace – a brotherhood of man excludes women, and even poetic license cannot redeem that flaw because it is internal inconsistency in logic. There’s a part of me that has always found it ironic that women stand up and sing along to Imagine – I find it ironic because they are imagining that the brotherhood of man really means them too, and that right there is a problem. A great songwriter would have found a way to make that song truly universal in letter and spirit.

And maybe that’s why I am smarter than Me, because who wants to read/listen/consume Morbid Realism when they can have Canned Hope? So I guess at the end of this one, all I seem to be doing is making a case for a good education, because it protects you from yourself and your ‘not-always-realistic’ dreams.

But that is precisely the struggle isn’t it? Should I just let go and give in to the dreamer in me, and flit and float and try to create the world I want, fail, and then kill myself because I can’t come to grips wth reality? Or should I let go of the dreamer and find my place in the world as it is and consume other dreamers’s dreams and pass snide comments about their work while secretly envying that they had the guts to follow their dreams?

I guess at my core, I believe that people should follow their dreams, and not bother about whether the world likes it. And yes, at my core, I am also a dreamer and that’s why I create stuff; but it is also true that I am not the “looking-for-peace” kind of dreamer (though I think they are very charming), because my experience says that people who look for peace from others, will end up as photographs on a wall, and what good that does anybody I am yet to fathom.

And so, I am trying to learn how to make instruments say what I am feeling. Just as a hobby, an interest, one note at a time. Who knows what might come of it…

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